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Nigeria-US Joint Civil Society Statement on President Biden’s Democracy Summit

Reflecting upon President Biden’s Democracy Summit, held virtually in December 2021, civil society organizations in Nigeria and the United States have released a joint statement calling upon each government to take specific actions to defend democracy and human rights. During a virtual press conference organized by the Washington-based Nigeria Working Group, signatories explained their reasons for signing and outlined recommendations for the follow-up summit in 2022.

CSOs from both countries called on the Nigerian government to:
–Sign the Electoral Act into law, in advance of the 2023 elections
–Investigate attacks on members of the judiciary
–Ensure independence of local governments, and end illegal caretaker governments
–Implement the findings of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry investigated abuses by SARS
–Guarantee freedom of religion
–Ensure transparent budget monitoring with civil society oversight

Some of the requests directed towards the US Government include:
–Implementing travel bans against Nigerian officials guilty of electoral malpractices
–Use the Global Forum on Asset Recovery principles as a framework for return of recovered assets (such as “Abacha loot”)
–Vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and press the Nigerian government on the implementation of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative
–Making human rights the centerpiece of US foreign relations with Nigeria

Read the full text of the letter, and see a current list of signatories here.

The COVID-19 Debt Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Jordan Morrisey

Slowing economic growth and increasing levels of debt painted a relatively stark economic picture for sub-Saharan African countries even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the health and additional economic impacts it has wrought. New approaches to these concurrent challenges is needed to mitigate against the worst effects.

Debt levels across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remained relatively low until around 2012, when only a handful of SSA countries were carrying debt-to-GDP ratios above 50%. Up until this point, the absolute level of African debt had continued to grow, but economies in SSA also expanded, keeping debt ratios within reasonable bounds. More recently, economic growth in SSA has slowed. In 2016, for example, real GDP growth was less than 2% for all SSA countries and in particularly negative territory for oil-exporting states, like Angola and Nigeria, due to low and declining commodity prices for oil-exporting states. Many African countries continued to borrow even though declining growth threatened their ability to repay, which has led to rising debt ratios. At the end of 2017, average public debt in SSA was 57% of its GDP, an increase of 20 percentage points in just five years. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in May 2018 that 15 of Africa’s 35 low-income countries are either in debt distress, meaning they cannot service their debts, or at high risk of debt distress. Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, growth in SSA for 2020 was projected at –1.6%, the lowest level on record.

Some Factors to Consider
In particular, it is important to look at the changing composition of African debt, the capacity of governments to service their debt, and the role of China as an increasing lender to SSA. Rising concerns about debt sustainability did not slow debt accumulation in many of the poorer countries in SSA. The combined external debt stock of the 30 SSA countries that benefitted from debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and Multilateral Debt Relief (MDRI) initiatives rose 11% in 2017, compared to 7% in 2016. The external debt stock of these countries has doubled since 2010 (see figure above).

A letter to President Joe Biden, initiated by the Jubilee USA Network and signed by over 260 organizations, calls for expanded debt relief and some cancellation.

The rise in external debt stocks has also outpaced economic growth in much of the region. The ratio of external debt-to-Gross National Income (GNI) averaged 34.2% at the end of 2017, which was over 50 percent higher than in 2010. The GNI of SSA countries in U.S. dollars rose on average 23% between 2010 and 2017, while the combined external debt stock rose 90 percent over the same period. This is illustrated in the figure below.

The combination of higher levels of outstanding external debt and a hardening of overall lending terms due to the rising share of external debt owed to private creditors has been reflected in increased debt servicing costs. By the end 2017, one third of countries in the region had a debt service-to-export ratio above 10%, and in several SSA countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya and Zambia that ratio surpassed 15%.

A distinctive feature of the ongoing rising debt problem in SSA is the composition of debt. Countries are moving away from official multilateral creditors who come with stringent conditions and toward non-concessional debt with relatively higher interest rates and lower maturities. This trend raises concerns around debt sustainability given the possibility of higher refinancing risks—particularly for commodity-backed loans in the event of a commodity price shock—and foreign exchange risks. This debt is increasingly held not by governments but by a large number of private creditors, and interest rates are at market levels. Negotiating debt relief would no longer be a government-to-government affair.

Taking on debt is a strategy for securing revenue to pay for things and government borrowing to finance public investments is an essential part of any country’s macroeconomic toolkit. Over the last two decades, countries in SSA have used this option often, which has led to significant improvements in human development outcomes. For example, between 1990 and 2015, average life expectancy increased, infant mortality rates were halved, secondary school enrollment soared, and infrastructure gaps narrowed. These and other gains would have been impossible without pragmatic spending of borrowed resources. Africa’s increasing public-debt burden, however, means higher interest costs, which divert resources from education, health care, and infrastructure to increasingly pay for the servicing of that debt.

COVID-19’s Impact
While developed nations are using the full-range of macroeconomic tools to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, developing countries in SSA have little monetary or fiscal space to cushion the blow of the systemic shocks cause by COVID-19. Export revenues are falling and access to external finance is drying up, while domestic responses to the health threat will negatively affect tax revenues, which are already insufficient. In the face of a major and truly exogenous shock, governments in many low and middle-income countries must contend with soaring spending needs, declining revenues, and insufficient resources to borrow from to fill this gap. As a result, their ability to meet their existing debt commitments is in serious jeopardy, as can be seen in the figure below.

Calls for debt cancellation, restructuring, and payment moratoriums are growing. A letter to President Joe Biden, initiated by the Jubilee USA Network and signed by over 260 organizations, calls for expanded debt relief and some cancellation. Even traditional skeptics of the efficacy of foreign aid, like economist Dambisa Moyo, have shifted their positions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moyo has called for a modern day “Marshall Plan” for Africa in response to COVID-19. Modelled after the big aid package that the U.S. provided to European countries after World War II, this plan would provide an opportunity to expand Western influence in the region, especially at a time when China has staked out a position as the “pre-eminent geopolitical force in Africa.” This could be an opportunity for the U.S. to re-engage with SSA and gain an ideological and commercial edge over China, mirroring how the U.S. was motivated to create the original Marshall Plan to prevent Europe from aligning with the Soviet Union. In the spirit of the stimulus approach, used in places like the U.S. and Hong Kong, Moyo advocates that donor countries should consider direct cash payments to African households. “The beauty of a direct-transfer approach is that it mitigates the risk of funds being illicitly diverted,” Moyo explains, “as billions in aid have been before, despite all the ‘conditionalities’ that are regularly imposed to prevent this.” This approach could leverage the robust, existing payment infrastructure that makes peer-to-peer cash transfers via mobile phones so popular in SSA, such as with M-PESA in Kenya.

The author is the Deputy Director for Global Operations at AMP Health, a public-private partnership which supports governments in sub-Saharan Africa to build visionary and effective public sector teams, and is hosted by the Aspen Institute. He is also pursuing a Master of Science degree in Development Management at American University’s School of International Service. 

The Advocacy Network on Africa Calls for Urgent Action to end Violence in Ethiopia

The Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA) is a non-partisan network of U.S.-based organizations and individuals who maintain significant focus on Africa or U.S.-Africa relations in their work. AdNA’s work is rooted in a commitment to Pan-Africanism.
The members of the Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA) recognize the multifaceted challenges Ethiopia is faced with at this juncture including regional security concerns with neighboring Eritrea, Sudan and also Egypt. The members of AdNA also recognize that Ethiopia is currently going through a transition period.
We are concerned, however, with current developments in the country that need the attention of the government of Ethiopia, the African Union Commission’s Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council, the United States and the International Community.
Our concerns over the deteriorating human rights and security situation in Ethiopia include: closing civic space; the continued operation of state of emergency structures in certain regions; the rising levels of intercommunal and ethnic based violence; political assassinations; human rights abuses against unarmed civilians; displacements due to conflicts; massacres, and the widespread reports of rape and other forms of gender-based violence in places where conflict has taken place.
AdNA is particularly alarmed over reports of serious human rights violations, including possible war crimes or crimes against humanity, committed during the ongoing conflict between the federal government and allied militia, government forces of Eritrea, and the regional government of Tigray and the ensuing humanitarian crisis which has exacerbated the existing crisis of internally displaced persons.
We call for an end to violence and for the African Union Commission’s Peace and Security Council, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and the international community to act to protect lives and the human rights of all peoples by doing the following:

  1. Urge all parties and peoples in Ethiopia to respect human dignity, to honor international and regional human rights standards as well as humanitarian law.
  2. Secure immediate and unrestricted access to address the humanitarian crisis in Tigray where over 2 million people are threatened with famine.
  3. Establish independent impartial investigations to look into ongoing human rights abuses committed during the Tigrayan conflict and in other parts of Ethiopia, particularly in Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, Amhara, Somali and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) regional states, including the plights of minorities in these regions. Also support efforts by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to ensure accountability.
  4. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing high levels of incarceration, support humanitarian organizations in their efforts to address the multi-faceted needs of the 2 million and more Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and the incarcerated population throughout the country.
  5. Demand that all foreign troops leave Ethiopia, and resolve regional issues amicably.
  6. Support democratic practice by pressing the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to end the crackdown on opposition groups and the closure of civic space; and demand that all opposition groups in Ethiopia commit themselves to non-violence.
  7. Promote freedom of expression, assembly and association including by creating an enabling environment for CSOs to advocate on human rights. Provide transportation access, lift the Command Post structures that continue operation in many areas and that have been linked to systematic and egregious human rights violations with impunity, and in consultation with local communities develop alternative security structures.
  8. Call on the Ethiopian government to ensure transparency and access to credible information on the situation in Tigray, Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, and other parts of the country to avoid misinformation and disinformation regarding the situation by immediately restoring full internet and telecommunication services.
  9. Call on the government of Ethiopia to ensure full due process rights for all those arrested as well as the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
  10. Call on the government of Ethiopia to ensure all conditions conducive to free, fair and peaceful elections, ending the disenfranchisement of significant portions of the population by addressing the lack of sufficient preparations and the conditions of insecurity.
  11. Call for an immediate inclusive national dialogue, with all political parties and stakeholders.
    If the current widespread security concerns in Ethiopia go unaddressed, the consequences shall be grave both for the Ethiopian people and for the Horn of Africa. We call on the government of Ethiopia to work with regional and international institutions to take immediate action to address the desperate humanitarian and political crises that are unfolding in different parts of the country.

African Studies Association 2021 – Call for Political Economy Papers and Panels

The Political Economy and Development section invites proposals for the 2021 ASA Annual Conference. We seek proposals that address political economy and development, broadly understood, as well as scholarship that directly engages with the conference theme of “Re-centering Africa: Resistance and Renewal in a World Beyond Covid-19.” We encourage papers and panels that address traditional research topics such as public goods, clientelism, patrimonialism, and the politics of oil; however, we strongly encourage papers and panels that engage with emerging and critical debates in the Political Economy of Africa. Such topics could include: Chinese investment and engagement in Africa (including for example debt diplomacy, the impact of Chinese imports on African economies, and variations in local labor laws for Chinese employment), structural transformation in borrowing and government fiscal capacity in the age of Covid, and research on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. We seek proposals from scholars who employ a range of methodologies and frameworks to examine political economy and development and encourage African-based scholars, early-career scholars to submit proposals. You must Register as an ASA member before you can submit a proposal. The deadline is April 1. Details can be found here.

In addition to submitting proposals to the Political Economy and Development section, we invite anyone working on political economy in Africa to join us for a virtual reception during the conference, hosted by the Political Economy and Development conference sub-chairs, Emmanuel Balogun, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Skidmore College, and Carl LeVan, Professor, Comparative and Regional Studies, American University.

Professor Carl LeVan
Professor Emmanuel Balogun

Remembering the Life and Scholarship of Ebere Onwudiwe

I was pleased to join friends and colleagues today for an online memorial for Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, who fell to COVID-19 on January 9. The event was organized by the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, in collaboration with Comparative and Regional Studies at American University.

The e-banner for the event.

I didn’t meet Ebere until after I read his work in the Journal of Democracy. He taught me a lot about “zoning,” and we had long exchanges about civil-military affairs, and Nigeria’s political economy. At that time I had already contributed a chapter to his book, Nigerian Federalism in Crisis, co-edited with Rotimi Suberu, whose class on “Comparative Federalism” I was teaching at the time (2004). Friends, family and colleagues lined up to honor Ebere’s legacy today. You can watch the memorial (about 75 minutes) here, courtesy of CDD below. You will have to enter the password .IP*F60z

Thanks for the many memories.

A Star beer on his rooftop after a long day always helped keep field work fun. Abuja 2012.
Dinner with Ebere in Abuja, 2010, after he organized a lecture for me at CDD. With gratitude….